#10 – The Merchant and The Minstrel

A servant’s life wasn’t all that different from an employed one. One would wake up and eat then get cleaned and dressed. The task that one did was decided by the owner, and for the most part, Owners were also hard-working. At the time of their arrival the mountain retreat had two hundred and five owners who each had a say in who could join their ranks, and how life up in these clouds should work. Most owners had, at one time, been on the other side of the whip. Most told the same story of self emancipation. All came to prominence by taking their fellow lost-men under wings. Only a few owners mistreated their slaves on a personal level, and that was the saving grace for the minstrel’s experience.
Jolly Jethrow had went out that day with the intention of collecting dues from his merchants. He was strutting in the wake of his guards, along the ramshackle paths that littered within the porous peak. It was only the simple misstep that caused him to stumble, turn around, and catch a glance of her being marched from the docks. She had a stilled fire under her skin, barely contained as she was prodded along with pokes and slashes. When she spoke out against her captors, he was sunk. Her voice was like milky amber in the morning. He forgot where he was for an instant, and that retreat away from this place was a brief taste of wonder. His feet took him after her, and as he caught up to the pirates, his guards advanced and halted the whole precession. Much to the protest of the freed men, she was sold from their care, and the pirates continued with their way to sell the other captive.
Not a word was said to her as she was escorted with her new party up a gentle slope that screwed around the center of the settlement. As they ascended, she could see hundreds of pockets carved into the walls, with curtains often draped over the openings. The trail leveled out, and the ceiling began to rise away, until it cut to clear sky. Here the trail divided into nine, with each smaller path leading away from the others. Some paths meandered down out into the open air, some curled back into the heart of the mountain, some were adorned with gateways, and signs. Two of these paths stood apart from the rest. One was painted black with blue diamonds littering the walls, the trail twisted deeper, and the entrance was watched by three steel-clad sentries. The other was vibrant in life, with the floor around the mouth painted a solar orange, and streaks of teal weaving a braid overhead. A lone man stood waiting for them, his feet at the edge of the color. He introduced himself in three other languages, before she recognized her own. The man had made a great effort to appear comforting as he took her gently by the arm and led her up the way. As she walked on, she felt the quiet and looked back to see the guards staying behind with their owner. Her eyes were trapped by his intense stare, and he plucked a feather from within his jacket and danced it before his smile. To her right, the wall was incomplete with various holes letting the light and wind sweep in. Through the gaps she saw only the churning grey of mist climbing the lands below. The minstrel was brought to an excavated cleft, intimately carved, with evidence of years of curating. Some of the finest luxuries plundered from the five lands were amalgamated into this opulent residence. She was brought through many rooms, all windowed with views facing direct east. Through the glass, she could see a private dock, with well maintained craft neatly rowed. They stopped at what would be her room, where she was invited to sit in a one of the slings surrounding a pedestalled shield. She ate and drank what was brought to her, and answered questions about herself. The host was very pleased with her answers and sent a hidden servant on some uninterpretable mission. When the meal was finished, she was escorted to a large cavern that housed the owners mixed collection. Her host knew every piece and it’s place, and he wasted not a moment finding an obscenely exquisite harp. The masterpiece was an organic weave of silver and gold, and at its bow an entire audience, in miniature, stood, dressed in detailed finery, fused to the top. The host took great care when bringing it to her. His smile was ripe with tension. She couldn’t imagine it’s worth, for is sounded as good as it looked.
The minstrel worked for the rest of the evening. She played and sang, and when she was brought the materials, even put her known family songs on to paper. She met other musicians in servitude and was asked to learn her parts in their pieces. She was brought clothes for sleep, and when changed and cleaned, she was shown her bed. It was large and rounded, with red patterned sheets loosely covering the lower half of Jolly Jethrow.
He took a mischievous sip of wine and said “Would you like to live as you should?”


Chapter 11


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